It wasn’t just Jason Blake who came away Saturday night with a black eye.
Steve Downie, the NHL’s latest repeat offender, in a prime time match-up between the Philadelphia Flyers and Toronto Maple Leafs, took advantage of Blake, the Toronto winger fully restrained by a linesman, by socking him square in the left eye.
He has received a lecture from league disciplinarian Colin Campbell and has spoken to Flyers’ GM Paul Holmgren, but will not be suspended.
This column is no space for apologies and hand-wringing over the rough or occasionally violent side of hockey. Downie is no goon. He is, however, a dangerous, disruptive member of society disguised as a skilled hockey player.
Most hockey fans will remember Downie from his devastating flying hit on Ottawa’s Dean McAmmond during a pre-season match that earned him a harsh 20-game suspension.
Many people understood Downie’s zeal—figuring he wanted to make the biggest impression possible in a bid to crack the Flyers’ opening day roster.
His attack on Blake is absent that mitigating factor, and passes by without discipline save for a four-minute penalty. Bit of a mixed message for the NHL to send, isn’t it?
Hockey news junkies and fans of the OHL, however, already will be tired about hearing about Downie.
During his tenure with the Windsor Spitfires, Downie cross-checked fellow Spitfire Akim Aliu in the face during a practice, chipping two teeth, after Aliu declined to participate in a hazing incident where rookies were forced to stand together naked in the team bus bathroom.
Aliu and Downie reportedly fought later during the practice.
Aliu was traded that season and Downie early the next. The Spitfires fired coach/GM Moe Mantha over the incident. Aliu has had a reasonable career in the OHL, and has since been drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks.
As for Downie, he’s scored a point a game in the OHL and netted his first goal in the NHL on Saturday night. Heart-warming.
Forgive the skeptics when Holmgren told the Philadelphia Inquirer that he, Campbell, and Downie had “a good talk” and his conversation with the rookie “was a little harsher than Colin Campbell’s.”
A little harsher? Does Campbell truly not see where Downie is headed? Take a look at Chris Simon—currently serving a record 30-game suspension for stepping on Jarkko Ruutu.
The suspension was the eighth in his NHL career, and prompted calls from all corners to ban Simon from the league after consistently putting other players in danger with his ruthless, brutal antics.
Does Campbell really need another guy like that running around the ice?
Said Downie in the same article: “There’s a fine line you’ve got to follow and I crossed it again. I got to learn.”
Fine line? How fine is the line that you shouldn’t punch a player who has been forcibly restrained by a linesman?
Would you want someone you know on the ice with a guy like Downie?
People have laid out the world before Downie’s feet because they feel he’s had a hard run at life. It’s well reported that he saw his own father die in front of him in a car accident (Downie himself was unhurt) and is partially deaf.
He’s also a 20-year-old man. He’s been told to pursue therapy. He should be expected to take responsibility for his actions like anyone else in society, regardless of his chosen career.
The NHL sent a great message when they suspended a reckless nut like Downie for the pre-season incident. Why stop suspending him now?
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